Mobile broadband deals
Compare the best mobile broadband deals and offers including pay as you go and pay monthly from the leading UK providers including 3 Mobile, EE, O2, T-Mobile, Virgin and Vodafone.
Mobile broadband buyers guide
Mobile broadband gives you the flexibility to take the same internet connection with you wherever you go - but that’s only the case if you’re in an area with good coverage and you’ve got the right equipment.
If you're considering getting mobile broadband our guide will help you to understand everything you need to know before you buy, from speeds to equipment, payments to network coverage and much more.
Why choose mobile broadband?
Mobile broadband gives you the freedom to get online almost anywhere, whether you’re at home, at work or in the middle of a field – if you’ve got a strong enough signal, of course. The technology is still developing with speeds and availability both on the increasing.
In some areas, mobile is fast becoming an alternative to fixed-line broadband, but the days of UK-wide superfast mobile connectivity are still some way off.
What are my options?
The first thing to decide is which of the two payment methods is most suitable for your needs:
Pay As You Go
Pay As You Go mobile broadband works in much the same way as a PAYG mobile phone. You pay for your equipment upfront, the cost of which sometimes includes some initial credit, and then top-up your data allowance whenever you run out.
PAYG mobile broadband is most suitable for occasional use, and usually works out more expensive than contract options. A good tip is to make sure not to purchase too much credit upfront, as it often expires after a specific amount of time whether you’ve been online or not.
If you choose a pay monthly contract package you should get the equipment free or at a greatly reduced price and you would normally get more data for your money than with a similarly-priced PAYG deal.
Pay monthly is a smarter choice if you’ll be using mobile broadband more often, but make sure to check the contract length and excess data charges before you buy.
What equipment do I need?
There are three types of mobile broadband equipment, and the right one for you will be determined by the device(s) you’ll be using and whether you want to connect more than one at a time.
This is the most common mobile broadband equipment and has been around much longer than the other types. Dongles look like a USB memory stick, and many actually include some flash storage alongside the internal SIM card. They’re most suitable for use with laptops, but most are only compatible with Windows, making them unsuitable for Mac or Linux users.
To use a dongle you simply plug it into a spare USB socket, install the software and you’re ready to go. For better reception you can use a USB extension lead or a dock that allows the dongle to stand upright.
Portable Wi-Fi hotspot
Some providers have recently introduced portable Wi-Fi devices, which create a localised hotspot or ‘bubble’ of wireless broadband to which you connect your devices. These are ideal if you want to connect multiple devices, if you want to share your mobile broadband or if your device lacks a USB port or the right operating system.
To use a portable Wi-Fi device you need to turn it on and place it somewhere with a good signal. Once it has successfully booted up you access the connection using the Wi-Fi built into your device. In practice portable Wi-Fi mobile broadband is often the fastest of the three hardware types.
Some tablets, such as the 3G Apple iPad, have an internal SIM card reader so you can connect to the mobile network without either of the above devices. There’s usually no upfront charge for SIM only mobile broadband deals making them a cheaper option if you’ve got a suitable device, but bear in mind that you won’t have the flexibility to connect your laptop or any other device.
Six essential questions before you buy
- Should I choose a pay monthly or PAYG package?
- Do I need a dongle, portable Wi-Fi device or just a SIM card?
- Which is the right network for me?
- How often will I be using mobile broadband?
- How much data will I be using?
- What will happen if I exceed my limit?
How fast will it be?
According to Ofcom the speed of UK mobile broadband is faster than ever. The most widely available technology remains 3G, or Third Generation, and in an area with good coverage, download speeds can be as high as 7.2Mbps.
4G, or Fourth Generation, mobile broadband is currently being rolled out across the country. So far it’s only being offered by a single provider and only in a handful of the most densely populated areas, but rapid network expansion is planned for the coming years. The advertised speed for 4G mobile is up to 12Mbps, however some users have reported speeds of 36Mbps and above in city centre locations.
Unfortunately the speed of mobile broadband connections remain at the the mercy of several factors including location, network demand, and atmospheric conditions.
How much data do I need?
In addition to working out the right payment option as discussed above, it’s really important to work out how much data you’ll need in order to find yourself the right deal. Choosing a plan with an unnecessarily high data allowance will see you paying more than you need to, while too little can result in high excess usage charges.
Before you buy take the time to think again about how often you'll be using mobile broadband, and what you're likely to be doing. To help you arrive at the right usage figure consider that each GB will let you:
- Spend around 12 hours on websites like BBC News and Facebook
- Download roughly 200 MP3 songs
- Download a standard definition movie
- Stream an hour of on-demand TV
Please bear in mind that these figures are only intended as a rough guide and the amount of each file type that can be downloaded will depend upon the format and source website. We strongly recommend that you carefully monitor your usage to avoid any problems, and if possible use your home broadband connection to download any music, video or other large files.
Inclusive public Wi-Fi usage
Some mobile packages include public Wi-Fi access, to let you get online at public hotspots without eating into your mobile data allowance. This is a great extra if you spend a lot of time in shopping centres, motorway service stations, fast food restaurants and the like. Bear in mind that although providers may say they include ‘unlimited Wi-Fi usage’ there is often a fair usage policy of just a few GB per month.
Which network is right for me?
Choosing the right network can be a little more tricky as you need to compare not just the packages themselves but also the differing levels of coverage for each provider.
You can access the coverage checkers of the different UK mobile broadband provider via the buttons at the top of this page. We recommend checking your home postcode at each of them in turn, and perhaps the postcodes of any other places where you might want to use your mobile broadband account regularly such as your work address, holiday home, friend’s house etc.
You may find it useful to read some of our other guides that include even more information about mobile broadband:
Can I get mobile broadband in my area? – explains more about the different types of mobile broadband.
How to check mobile broadband coverage in your area – contains information on the different providers’ network coverage and tricks for improving reception.